From the Editor’s Notebook: Minor Prophets, Obadiah

From the Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Outline Studies of the Minor Prophets

Obadiah: The Book of Edom’s Doom

Key Word: Retribution.

Message: “Solemn warning against the perils of pride and anti-Semitism” (Robert Lee).1 Or, as Eric W. Hayden has capsulized things on a more positive note: “Living the Victorious Life.”2

Key Verses: 15 & 17 — “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head … But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”


Obadiah, whose name means “servant of Jehovah,” is the oldest and the shortest of the Old Testament prophetical writings. Nothing whatsoever is known of Obadiah himself. Though there are several Obadiahs mentioned in the Old Testament, there is no evidence to indicate that any of them wrote this book. Furthermore, it is difficult to date this brief prophecy, which dating hinges on the interpretation of verses 11-14.

Some think that the reference here is to the events in the days of Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:16-17), while others relate these verses to events in the days of Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:17). Still others link the passage with Jeremiah 49:14-16, making these two prophets contemporaries.

W. Graham Scroggie contends for the early date of about 586 B.C.,3 while Merrill F. Unger places the book during the reign of Jehoram (c. 848-41 B.C.).4 At that time the Philistines and Arabians invaded Judah and plundered Jerusalem (2 Chron. 21:16-17; Joel 3:3-6; Amos 1:6). At that time the Edomites were also the bitter enemies of Judah (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10). Through a comparison of references in both prophecies, Amos reveals an acquaintance with Obadiah (cf. v. 4 with Amos 9:2; vv. 9, 10 & 18 with Amos 9:12; v. 20 with Amos 9:14). Jeremiah apparently used this prophecy also (cf. vv. 1-6 with Jer. 49:7-22). This gives additional support for dating the book early.

To understand the prophecy of Obadiah one must know about the age-long conflict between Jacob and Esau, even at their birth (Gen. 25:22-23). Obadiah is in two parts, one part dealing with Edom and the other with Israel, and it was from these twin boys — Jacob and Esau — that these two nations sprang. Esau’s descendants, the Edomites or Idumeans, were a proud, bitter, resentful people, seeking at every opportunity to harm Israel, Jacob’s descendants. At first the Edomites were governed by dukes, and then by kings (Gen. 36). At the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Edomites were in their golden age and they refused Israel passage through their territory when Jacob’s descendants were on their way to Canaan (Num. 20:18). When Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem, Edom rejoiced over Israel’s downfall and cruelly took part in the plundering and massacre (cf. Psa. 137:7). However, their rejoicing was brief, for within four years Nebuchadnezzar invaded Edom and completely overthrew the nation. Later, Cyrus, king of Persia, overcame them, and the Edomites received still another crushing defeat by the Jews under the Maccabees. Edomite hostility was still evidenced in the time of Christ when Herod the Great, an Idumean and descendant of the Edomites, sought to slay the infant Christ. Slowly the nation disappeared until their very name perished.

In Obadiah’s day the capital of Edom was Sela (Petra), the rock city which, although now desolate, still remains one of the wonders of the world. In their natural fortress-stronghold the Edomites thought their city was impregnable, but they did not reckon on the power of God.

Actually, the last remnants of the Edomites were wiped out in 70 A.D., helping to defend Jerusalem against the Romans.

It is impossible today for anyone to trace his ancestory back to the Edomites. While it is true that the territory of the Edomites comes back into focus in the last days, it will be the residents of that old territory whom the Lord Jesus Christ shall judge (Isa. 63:1-6). It is apparent that in a coming day the nation occupying the Edomites’ land will side with the armies of the Antichrist against the Jews, as once the Edomites themselves sided with Nebuchadnezzar. However, as seen from the prophecy of Obadiah the ultimate victory will be Israel’s.


The major themes of the book of Obadiah may be outlined in several ways. The two outlines which follow suggest the overall subject matter of this brief prophecy:

1. The Shame of Edom (vv. 1-9)

2. The Sin of Edom (vv. 10-14)

3. The Sentence of Edom (vv. 15-21)

4. Edom’s Punishment (vv. 1-6)

5. Israel’s Possession (vv. 17-21)

Notable Notes

This short prophecy of Obadiah has a twofold practical message: 1. a warning against sinful pride and godless defiance (v. 3); and 2. a warning against anti-Semitism, for God Himself will undertake the cause of the Jews and will destroy their enemies.

The words of verses 17 & 18 are a gospel gem: deliverance, sanctification, enrichment and victory.

In verse 21, which concludes the book, there is a beautiful prophetic statement: “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”

In the book of Obadiah the LORD JESUS CHRIST is revealed as the SAVIOUR and as JEHOVAH’S PERFECT SERVANT, reminding us of Mark’s Gospel wherein the same themes are paramount (see Mark 10:45).

1 Robert Lee, The Outlined Bible.

2 Eric W. Hayden, Preaching Through the Bible, p. 138.

3 W. Graham Scroggie, Know Your Bible, I, p. 207.

4 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 802.